Pioneer Square is full of surprising shops to explore. Often you’ll find stores that bring a little bit of home from another place to a small corner of Seattle. We caught up with Johnnie Stroud from Saké Nomi, and his wife Taiko, to ask them how they came about bringing premium-grade, Japanese imported saké to the Pacific Northwest.
We opened in June 2007. We looked at several different locations before settling on Pioneer Square, and as we went through the process, Pioneer Square just felt “right” for what we are trying to do. We fell in love with the architecture and historical feel of the neighborhood, and since Saké Nomi is the 1st premium sake shop and tasting bar in the U.S., the “pioneer” part seems appropriate, too. The 100-plus-year-old building we’re in allows us to reference the traditional architecture of the Japanese sakagura (brewery), in Saké Nomi’s interior design, and that atmosphere is something we wouldn’t be able to easily re-create elsewhere.
Are you from Seattle? What is it that you like about the city and Pioneer Square?
My wife, Taiko, is from Japan (Ibaraki prefecture), and I’m originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan. We met and married in Japan and settled in the Seattle area in 1996. We chose Seattle because we wanted to be on the West Coast, with easy access to Japan, and we love being able to see the mountains and the water year-round. Pioneer Square feels historical and artsy and urban, and there’s a creative energy and neighborhood vibe that we enjoy being a part of.
What kind of product do you focus on at Saké Nomi?
Saké Nomi literally means, “sake only,” so sake and sake-related accessories are our main focus. Besides selling and serving sake, though, we focus a lot on education and introducing the unique history, culture, and traditions of Japanese sake brewing (and drinking!). A little over a year ago, we added some Japanese microbrew beer to supplement our sake selection.
We relocated to Seattle [from Japan] in August of 1996, and accomplished our goal of finding Japan-related work. After a number of job changes, we eventually established a wholesale apparel company to export new and used clothing to Japan. After a few years, we began discussing the possibility of using our company to import Japanese goods for sale in the U.S. It was important to us to find something rare and uniquely Japanese that we could share with U.S. consumers, and somehow we hit upon the idea of premium saké. During our trips to favorite Seattle Japanese restaurants and Asian grocery stores, we often lamented the lack of quality saké choices, knowing there must be thousands of unique and delicious brews being produced throughout Japan, but not yet known in the U.S.
Any exciting plans in store for Saké Nomi?
More and more imported sake from Japan is being made available all the time, and in the coming months, we’ll be introducing several new-to-Washington brews. In addition to our retail and bar activities, we also host sake-centric private parties and events (birthday parties, anniversaries, wedding receptions, etc.) for up to 50 people. We’ve been doing sake-pairing events with Umami Kushi about once a month, matching premium sake with yakitori, so those will continue, too.
Stop by Saké Nomi next time you’re in the Square and marvel at the vast selection of fine rice wine offered by Johnnie and Taiko. As you swirl the stout little tasting cup in your hand, ponder the connections between Pioneer Square, Seattle, and the rest of the world. Which part of the world are you visiting next time you visit the Square?